The Oregon Health Authority and Oregon Medical Board reached a settlement in U.S. District Court, Portland, Monday. They agreed to cease enforcing residency requirements and ask the Legislature for their removal.

Advocates stated that they would use the settlement in order to push Washington, D.C. and eight other states with medically assisted suicide laws, to also drop their residency requirements.

Kevin Diaz, an attorney representing Compassion & Choices (a national advocacy group) said that Oregon’s requirement was discriminatory and deeply unfair to dying patients.

Laura Echevarria is a spokesperson for National Right to Life which opposes such laws. She warned that Oregon could become the nation’s capital of assisted suicide tourism if it does not have a residency requirement.

Diaz stated that this was unlikely given the legal safeguards, including the requirement that doctors determine whether patients can be mentally competent; that it is very difficult for terminally ill individuals to travel long distances to another state; that many people would prefer to die at home and not in other countries.

Diaz stated that there is no tourism.

Compassion & Choices sued Dr. Nicholas Gideonse of Portland, a family physician and an associate professor of family medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. Gideonse, a long-standing supporter of medical aid in dying laws, was unable to issue terminal prescriptions for patients living just across the Columbia River from Washington.

Washington does have such a law. However, it can be difficult for providers to be found in the southwest part of the state where many hospital beds are located in religiously affiliated facilities. Gideonse stated that requiring patients to seek out other doctors for assistance in ending their lives can only increase their suffering.

Monday’s statement by Gideonse stated that any restriction on medical aid for dying that does not serve a specific medical purpose would be difficult. “In no other manner is my practice restricted for Oregon residents, regardless of whether it’s delivering babies in past or any other care that I provide.”

According to the lawsuit, the residency requirement was in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause. This gives Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce and the Privileges & Immunities Clause which prohibits states from discriminating against citizens of other states.

The Oregon Health Authority, and the medical board refused to comment on the reasons they settled the case. The office of the state attorney general did not respond immediately to a request for interviews.

Oregon’s 1997 law, which was the first in the nation, allows terminally ill patients with less than six months left to live to take lethal medication prescribed by a doctor.

Two verbal requests must be made to the doctor for medication within 15 days. A written request must also be submitted in the presence two witnesses. A consulting physician and the attending physician must confirm the diagnosis and make a decision about whether or not the patient can make health care decisions. If either of these doctors believe the patient has depression or another mental disorder they may refer them for a psychological exam.

According to data published by the Oregon Health Authority last month, 2,159 people died from terminal drugs ingested under the law.

Similar laws have been approved in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Washington, D.C., and Hawaii. All of these laws require residency. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the state law does NOT prohibit medical aid for dying.

Echevarria stated that National Right to Life is worried about people traveling to Oregon without having a relationship with Oregon’s doctors. This could lead to a decrease in guardrails to limit the use of the law.

She said, “The hope is doctors will continue to assess patients. But it certainly creates an environment where there could be more abuses of that law.”